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Pennsylvania Derby: Alpha, Golden Ticket face off after Travers dead heat
Unlike in 1874, when the two combatants who dead-heated for first in the Travers Stakes – Attila and Acrobat – staged a run-off the same day to decide the winner, there was no such exercise conducted this year.
Instead, Alpha and Golden Ticket – the two horses who dead-heated for first in last month’s 143rd edition of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga – will have a rematch in Saturday’s Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing. They will be joined in the starting gate by six other 3-year-olds, only one of whom has won a graded stakes.
Alpha and Golden Ticket figure to be the top two betting choices in the Pennsylvania Derby, a race that could be overshadowed by the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion featuring the exciting 3-year-old filly Questing and last year’s 2-year-old filly champion, My Miss Aurelia.
Alpha was the 2-1 favorite in the Travers and looked defeated in midstretch as Golden Ticket, a 33-1 longshot, was spurting away under David Cohen. But Alpha, under Ramon Dominguez, was perhaps energized by a late-running Fast Falcon to his outside and managed to get his head down on the wire at the same time as Golden Ticket, making for a bit of history.
The victory was the fourth stakes win of the year for Alpha, who in the winter won the Count Fleet and Withers at Aqueduct and who in July won the Jim Dandy.
The only real blemishes on Alpha’s record have come at Churchill Downs, where he finished 11th in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 12th in this year’s Kentucky Derby, both by the identical 19 1/4-length margin.
“Alpha hasn’t won outside New York, but the only two races were at Churchill, so hopefully he just hates Churchill,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “He’s flying. He couldn’t be doing any better.”
McLaughlin has kept Alpha in Saratoga to train. Though Alpha was training on Saratoga’s main track, a dirt surface, leading up to the Travers, he has trained exclusively on the synthetic surface at the Godolphin training center. All of his works have been right-handed, which is the opposite way that the races in America are run or horses typically train.
“Racing in America, training in America, everything is left-handed,” McLaughlin said. “In my experience of 30 years on the racetrack, I’m going to say 90 percent of your issues on horses are left front, right hind. In thinking about it, we just felt if we could switch directions maybe it helps their issues out.”
McLaughlin said that Alpha doesn’t have any issues, but that training right-handed “is something different. It picks their head up.”
The Pennsylvania Derby does not appear to be loaded with speed, though Csaba, a front-running victor in an overnight stakes at Calder in July, is adding blinkers to his equipment.
“Obviously, Ramon knows him well, he can lay second, third, or we can be on the lead,” McLaughlin said. “It looks like if we break well, we will be forwardly placed, and we’ll see how the track is playing on the day.”
Golden Ticket was coming off a 13-week layoff when he ran in the Travers. His trainer, Ken McPeek, had entered Golden Ticket in two other races that didn’t fill, before deciding to take a swing at the Travers. McPeek said he took that gamble because the horse had trained so well at Saratoga, and he has continued to do so having stayed in upstate New York before shipping to Parx on Thursday.
“He’s done extremely well since the last race,” said McPeek, who planned to train Golden Ticket at Parx on Friday and school him in the paddock and gate. “He drank a bucket of water coming out of the Travers, and we think he can improve a notch off that race.”
Golden Ticket will break from post 6 under David Cohen.
Macho Macho enters the Travers off a victory in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby, in which he outfinished Bourbon Courage, who came back to win the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.
Macho Macho, trained by Steve Asmussen, will be ridden by Corey Nakatani from post 8.
Casual Trick, who had breathing issues during the winter and spring when he was non-competitive in graded stakes, has won two allowance races at Parx for trainer Nick Zito, a three-time winner of the Pennsylvania Derby.
Stephanoatsee, a half-brother to Shackleford, finished second to Alpha in the Count Fleet in January and was sidelined because of injury. He came off a seven-month layoff to win a first-level allowance at Delaware Park.
Handsome Mike, who returns to dirt after running fourth in the Grade 1 Secretariat on turf, and Junebugred, winner of the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn in January, complete the field.
You think Rick Dutrow is privately fuming he didn't run Willy Beamin in the PA Derby instead of waiting for the Oklahoma Derby next week? He probably would have won this race had he gone in! If Dullahan can win the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic next Saturday and follow that up in November with a win in the BC Turf, he could very well steal the three year old title.
Haha Mark. Thats why you dont eat chalk in DD. Hysterical.
My top 3 are Alpha, Casual Trick and Macho Macho. Thinking Casual Trick will be near lead and take over with Alpha and Macho Macho comin' for him. My use Stehpanoatee as another late charger if he gets a clean trip might make some late noise
I look at this race thinking Alpha's the best horse in here but I gotta believe Stephanoatsee will run big in here. The rail is not the best spot for him but he can finish up strong considering his breeding he should only get better. I'm gonna cover with alot of exotics but i do hope this colt runs big at a price. Good Luck everyone!
Never underestimate a McPeek longshot!
hey drf people ur website for ordering pp is sqrewd up fix it!!!!!
Alpha is the best horse in field, but look for Handsome Mike to run a big one.
Mark if you are chasing a $4.20 DD than you will go broke quickly. And Golden Ticket was coming off a longer layoff than Alpha in the Travers. After looking at this again I cant endorse Macho Macho who was beaten by My Adonis who was routed in the Smarty Jones 3 weeks ago. Keep the lessons coming Mark. I learn so much!
Another lesson for you Beyer gazers. Beyers are assigned in order of finish with the winner getting the highest and so on and so on. You see that big number next to Golden Ticket and it means nothing other than he finished second behind Alpha in a weak field.
Folks, please don't handicap this race more than you have to. Alpha's last race was his first back from a small layoff. He wasn't as fit as he could have been. He comes into the race ready to build off the last. Golden Ticket? Really? You go with that. He was lucky that Alpha wasn't on his game last race or it wouldn't have been close. Alpha is ALLLLLL the class. Is the Daily Double really as easy as the McLaughlin duo? Questing is going to absolutely run these other gals out of the sport and Alpha is going to make the Travers look like the fluke it was. Questing/Alpha, not a surprise but damn sure a LOCK. Bet the mortgage on the DD to win anything as its gonna pay 4.20 on a 1/9 and a 4/5.